Great Escape’s ‘Third Person’ a witty script
MARSHALL, Mich.–In welcoming home director Jennifer Conley Darling, Great Escape Stage Company here is playing host to a new work that is clever, witty and thought-provoking.
Darling helped develop Dan Kitrosser’s Third Person as part of her theater company terraNOVA Collective in New York. They brought it to Marshall to launch its world premiere.
It opens in a kitchen/dining room where Buck (Morris Arvoy), the family patriarch, sits at the table contentedly, an odd half-grin on his face. The audience soon learns that he was hit by lightning a month prior and has been struck with an unusual disability. He constantly narrates everything he sees and thinks in the third person, free of all those filters that make family life bearable.
He doesn’t hesitate to describe the effects of aging on his wife Mona (Kat Whaley), the laziness of his son Felix (Isaiah Potter), or the parental failures of his mother Lynette (Janice Darling). He also doesn’t hesitate to spill out the family secrets that have been long buried.
Kitrosser gives all the characters their own quirks, heartaches, desires and needs. All are fascinating and interesting, keeping the story twisting and humorous even when delving into serious issues such as loyalty, betrayal, narcissism, insecurity, revenge and family ties.
Third Person is well plotted, providing twists at unexpected moments and slowly teasing at the mysteries until the final unexpected reveal. It is an all-around delightful script.
Some of the actors were able to make the most of the delicious characters they were provided, fully realizing their entertainment value and playing them accordingly.
Arvoy was fun to watch from the moment lights went up. He was comfortable with the initial silence, surveying the kitchen, taking it all in, piquing the audience’s curiosity. He made the most of all the tools in an actor’s toolkit—facial expressions, varied volume, movement. He gave his fellow actors plenty to work with and plenty of reasons to be infuriated at his character. He infused Buck with the necessary authenticity to keep him from being a comic trope and instead made him believable and sympathetic.
Alix Curnow played the daughter who had escaped the family and was attending school in New York. She had energy, was able to distinguish herself from her family and fully committed to every narcissistic choice Janey makes. She was especially delightful to watch in her moments with her boyfriend Rafik, played by Hayder Jaafar. The two of them radiated sex in silent exchanges that were electrifying and hilarious.
Toward the end, Emma Arvoy makes an appearance as “A Surprise Guest.” Without giving away who she is, for it is too much fun to learn in the moment, suffice it to say that Emma Arvoy is as talented an actor as her father Morris. She energetically took command of the stage, acting as a catalyst that propelled the show to its climax.
Sometimes the difference between professional acting and amateur, between great and ordinary, can be measured in a matter of moments, of pauses, of hesitations. It is the difference between being a character and pretending to be one.
Too many of the characters who had the most stage time never ceased to be actors performing a role. They never quite made that complete transition into fully realizing their characters and in return letting the audience be able to believe in them and their words. They found a single emotional level and stayed at it.
There were times the script was able to lift them above their performances, because they truly had wonderful lines to speak and Darling did an excellent job with the direction, staging movements that built up to the conflicts, and pacing the show so that it fed into the storyline.
Randy Lake did an excellent job with the set design, giving the audience the sight lines they needed to see actors in and out of the kitchen and putting a spotlight on a symbolic tree out the kitchen window. I did find myself looking for the oven or even a microwave, but I was willing to suspend disbelief and accept that it was on the invisible fourth wall. Joyce Kristufek’s props helped establish the economic status of the family and give them plenty to safely throw around.
Dan Kitrosser’s Third Person could easily become a popular play for regional and community theaters with its entertaining dialog, engaging story, and fully realized characters that span the generations. It provides a fun challenge for actors—which at least some of the Great Escape performers were up to.